U.S. Senate pledges diplomatic boycott of Beijing Olympics

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U.S. lawmakers have pledged a diplomatic boycott of the 2022 Beijing Olympics as part of a wide-ranging China-focused bill passed by the Senate this week.

WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 04: Supporters of the East Turkistan National Awakening Movement participate in a rally calling on the U.S. government to support and recognize the group of people of Xinjiang, China in their desire to separate from China as

The bill commits roughly $250 billion to competing with China in scientific realms, but also commits to foreign policy initiatives, and to sanctioning China for its human rights abuses, including the alleged detention and oppression of over a million Uyghurs in Xinjiang. Among the commitments is Section 3312, tucked away amid thousands of pages.

“It shall be the policy of the United States,” the section opens, “to implement a diplomatic boycott of the [2022] Olympic Winter Games and Paralympic Winter Games … and to call for an end to the Chinese Communist Party’s ongoing human rights abuses, including the Uyghur genocide.”

In practice, the bill forbids Secretary of State Antony Blinken from using “federal funds to support or facilitate the attendance of … any employee of the United States government” at the Games – though it also includes the caveat that Blinken may waive the pledge “in a circumstance in which the Secretary determines a waiver is the national interest.”

Blinken himself has remained noncommittal on a boycott. “We’re consulting very closely with allies and partners to look at the common concerns that we have, and ideally to establish a common approach,” he told a Congressional hearing on Monday. A coordinated strategy, he said, “will be much more effective than doing something on our own.”

President Joe Biden has also refused to commit to any action related to the Beijing Olympics, which begin in less than eight months, on Feb. 4, 2022. But on Tuesday, Biden applauded the Senate for passing the China bill, and said: “I look forward to working with the House of Representatives on this important bipartisan legislation, and I look forward to signing it into law as soon as possible.”

The Senate approved the bill on Tuesday by a 68-32 vote. It could face hurdles in the House, where lawmakers have drafted their own versions of China-focused bills. The boycott pledge, though, is expected to remain in whatever legislation reaches Biden’s desk. In fact, Politico reported this week that Democrats on the House’s Foreign Affairs panel have agreed to “add clearer language to call for a diplomatic boycott of the Winter Olympics in China.” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has also come out in favor of a diplomatic boycott. 

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